Review: Primordia

Horatio Nullbuilt, how interesting of a character can you be? How curious is your story? Those are the two questions one who plays an adventure game in the style of Primordia must ask, and hope that the answer to both is positive, as there is no interesting gameplay to fall back onto.

A rugged robot who traverses the wasteland with his companion, Crispin Horatiobuilt, Horatio wants nothing more than his independence and solitude. That desire is quickly shattered, as a mysterious robot raids his ship and takes his power core, leaving him stranded and with little power reserves. Very much the unwilling protagonist, you set out to solve this issue with your principle goal being to get your core and return to your ship – life, however – even the artificial sort -, is never that simple.

References to other media and witty remarks are delivered in the right amount, never crossing the line of humor that leads into cringing or eye-rolling.
References to other media and witty remarks are delivered in the right amount, never crossing the line of humor that leads into cringing or eye-rolling.

The first thing that needs to be said, evident five minutes into the game, is that Primordia is an adventure game in the oldest sense of the word. A genre with a cult following that has existed in diminished size since its inception and has seen a broadening of its audience with Telltale’s faux-modernization of the style, adventure gaming in the (exact) style of the 90’s is brought to life in Primordia, with its point-and-clicking, pixel-scanning and trial & error present in abundance and with nary a nod to the genre’s “innovations”, being as unimaginative as it was twenty years ago, with the added drawback of there being more examples of interesting gameplay now than there were in the past.

The gameplay suffers not only from being old and stale, though, as it is also poorly designed: scouring the screen for the right pixel is often a blind-man’s search, as there is no visual cue of interaction prior to actually hovering your cursor over the correct place; the possibilities of what you can do, such as assembling and disassembling an item, aren’t evident and often require you to go through various permutations before acquiring what you wish. These issues are particularly progress-impeding at the start of the game, and while they do diminish the more you progress and the more acquainted you become with the game’s obtuse interactions, they never truly go away.

The solution to the game's puzzles oscillates between the obvious and the terribly obtuse, allowing the game no flow of its own.
The solution to the game’s puzzles oscillates between the obvious and the terribly obtuse, allowing the game no flow of its own.

That isn’t to say the game doesn’t have its more inspired moments, of which I’ll have to be purposefully vague in order to not spoil you the game’s better puzzles, and doesn’t have some improvements in lieu of it being a modern game. The menu and your inventory are easy to access and use, with a slick interface that is self-explanatory and provides you with everything you need to use within just a couple of clicks. The ability to fast travel between known locations is also a welcome addition, sparing you from the boring dreg that is to slowly walk between two distant locations.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, Primordia is a game that will be made or broken not by its gameplay – which has the demerit of failing to fully explore the, even if small, potential of a style that’s been tried and tested for decades – but its story and characters. The initial simplicity of your quest is quickly replaced by matters of religious and social nature and an overarching plot that is slowly unfurled as you delve into Metropol.

Metropol's denizens have interesting stories to tell
The city of Metropol has many robots, each with their own desires and problems to solve.

In that sense Primordia does not falter. The story’s pacing may be broken by a puzzle’s dead-end, though you can often resolve that by nagging Crispin until he gives you a clue, but that aside it steadily builds from that initial simplicity of retrieving your power core to something somber and important. The characters aren’t as one-dimensional as you might expect from artificial life-forms and are full of their own quirks and personalities, aided by excellent voice acting (Horatio is voiced by fan-favorite Bastion narrator, Logan Cunningham) and personal issues for you to solve or ignore. The city itself has plenty of history for you to uncover, the depth of which will depend on how thorough a detective you are. To its merit, it doesn’t try and re-visit Aasimov’s or Philip K. Dick’s interpretations on artificial life-forms, its story revolving around issues particular to it and not external contrivances.

Primordia is a game stuck within the trappings of a stale genre, that even in its modern iterations suffers from dull interactivity, and yet I enjoyed it greatly. To answer the questions I posed at the start of this review, Primordia’s characters – not only Horatio – are interesting and varied, and its story is not only cohesively pieced together but delivered at a satisfying pace, never losing momentum. A reader with a less negative view of adventure games would likely enjoy the game more than I did, though even within the adventure genre Primordia has many flaws – whereas one who shares a deeper distaste toward this genre could not, perhaps, get over the issues I mentioned.

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